Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

Some Thoughts on Bird Names and Barriers

I post this with trepidation. I am disinclined to touch on such topics here.

A few years ago, I became involved with a birding organization whose core mission of making birding more accessible deeply resonated with me. I have a severe visual disability, and so I’m familiar with barriers to birding. Joining this group brought me in contact with a variety of people, most of them quite wonderful, but also a few with an angry, victim mentality that has become common of late. I also joined Instagram for a time, in an effort to amplify the mission of the organization, thereby connecting with literally thousands of other birders. Again, mostly great people. But for every few dozen bird photos in my feed, I’d be treated to a post with an insightful observation such as “Fuck Capitalism.” I didn’t unfollow anyone, as I had a morbid curiosity to simply observe these angry young birders. Eventually it became all too dreary and I uninstalled the app.

I include this preface to provide perspective. I’ve been silent, and prefer being silent, even as those I disagree with make a great deal of noise. This essay amounts to a single chip note in response to a raucous din I’ve been hearing for years.

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) recently announced that they will remove all honorific bird names that they can assert jurisdiction over. Some might think I’d be celebrating this, as I had once published an essay opining that eponymous common names were a bad practice. The sole reason was something my wife pointed out to me thirty years ago, long before the topic became politically charged: non-descriptive monikers lack clarity. “Black-throated Green Warbler” actively helps with identification in a way that “Townsend’s Warbler” does not.

In 2021 I discovered the “Bird Names for Birds” (BN4B) effort and was initially excited. But as I read through their manifesto, it became obvious that the goal of clear nomenclature was secondary, at best. I don’t wish to be unkind, but it all felt more like grievance, resentment, and virtue signaling. I believe there are many good intentions that inform their effort, and that it comes from a good place in the hearts of young, misinformed idealists. But the postmodern nonsense that permeates it is just that; nonsense (and that is a problem that extends way beyond birding). At the core was an assumption about people they don’t know and cannot speak for: that their love for the natural world must be so weak that it can be ruined by a “barrier” consisting of the names of a few long dead explorers. I do not see how this is anything but condescending. What is more, it dilutes the meaning of the term, and demeans the very real experiences of those who have faced the real barriers of real discrimination in the field. Meanwhile, taking in the arguments for taxonomic stability and keeping the current names, I found my stance changed.

The BN4B site includes a collection of short, historical bios of selected ornithologists having honorifics. These blurbs are insightful for what they say and don’t say. One gets the impression that the authors scoured biographical sources merely to find any clue of unacceptable behavior, affiliation, or opinion, and then added the name to the list of Bad People and composed another cookie-cutter vignette. It is easy to judge the dead. They cannot defend themselves. It is also fruitless.

Reading through these pieces, a passage from Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities kept coming to mind:

"Crash!—A head is held up, and the knitting-women who scarcely lifted their eyes to look at it a moment ago when it could think and speak, count One."

A few of the bios concede that certain ornithologists, such as William Swainson and Isaac Sprague, did little to warrant any venom, so they got off with a kind of guilt-by-association, tacit condemnation instead. (They also help make a case for eponyms, inadvertently, when they praise Emilie Snethlage.) There was a palpable air of forlorn disappointment when they could not dig up any real dirt on someone. But now, with the plethora of news articles with titles such as “Nearly 80 bird species names with racist roots are about to be changed,” it is clear which cubbyhole has been reserved for Sprague, and everyone else.

Allow me a digression – it will be relevant – that starts with a fascinating trivia question. Which specific historical figures have been the subjects of the most written work? Not surprisingly, Jesus Christ ranks at number one on that list. The runner-up is not unexpected either: Napoleon Bonaparte. But coming in third is a name that would not be guessed by most people, especially today, when classical music is (unfortunately) not widely appreciated: the nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner. [1]

Wagner utterly revolutionized music, creating operas of epic scope that have never been surpassed. His development of leitmotif, in which a melodic fragment or phrase becomes associated with a character, or object, or theme in the story, is a key reason why film scores sound as they do today. He pushed the limits of tonality to create sonic landscapes that were unimaginable at the time and which still sound otherworldly. His musical legacy will certainly accrue continuing attention from opera lovers and academics for as long as humanity endures. (He also has a character in the opera Siegfried that is a forest bird.)

But there is another reason why Wagner attracts attention from writers and commentators: he wasn’t a pleasant character. He cheated on his wives and was a notorious nationalist and antisemite, famously writing a screed against “Jewishness in music.” He died in 1883, but was celebrated by Germany’s National Socialists, and it is hard to believe that had he been alive in the 1930s, he would not have returned the adoration.

Whereas few birders know anything about the life of John Townsend, most every musician and classical music fan knows about Wagner’s dark side, and this has been the case for as long as his works have been important. It is difficult to grapple with the fact that such glorious art could have been created by a man with such monstrous ideas. The unpleasant reality is that we are paradoxical and imperfect beings. The way we respond to this fact speaks volumes about us.

Here is how the late Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein responded. He said, “I hate you Richard Wagner, but I hate you on my knees.”

Leonard Bernstein

(Bernstein, incidentally, is the subject of the 2023 film Maestro starring Bradley Cooper. Controversy attends this work as well, because a few individuals are angry that the Jewish conductor is being portrayed by a non-Jewish actor. Which brings to mind another fine quote from Bernstein: “I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.”)

What does this have to do with bird names? Merely a friendly suggestion to try emulating the great conductor. Perhaps with something such as, “I hate you John James Audubon, but I appreciate everything you contributed to science and art.” Gratitude is good for the soul. Resentment isn’t.

Or you can look to Maya Angelou, who absolutely got it, coming to the following realization in her childhood: “Of course Shakespeare must be a black girl.” She wasn’t looking for something to be offended by – and there is plenty to be offended by in Shakespeare, if one wishes to find it. Instead, she chose to resonate with the good, the common denominator of shared humanity, the overwhelming similarity between a young black girl and “privileged” white male.

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you will look forward, do so prayerfully. But the wisest course would be to be present in the present gratefully.” – Maya Angelou

My own ancestors were victims of a well-documented ethnic cleansing in 1755. Should I remain resentful of that? Claim victim status? Refuse to be engaged in anything connected to the culture of the perpetrators? Demand the changing of the names of cities that commemorate the victors? I don’t see why mature people should respond in such ways to long-past injustices. All human cultures, every last one of them, were “problematic” by current standards – and it is utterly fruitless to apply such standards retroactively. “Self-pity is our worst enemy,” said Helen Keller, “and if we yield to it, we can never do anything good in the world.”

I’m a moderate, a classical liberal, an environmentalist with solar panels on his roof, and I never wanted to see the culture wars brought into birding, but that is what one side has now instigated. I know of many other birders that share my perspective, including some on the AOS committees in charge of all this, who fought the changes; at least two have resigned in protest (one posted at this link). All the happy talk from AOS and eBird does not mention this. Many of us shake our heads, sensing that this will likely cause more division, not less.

More division in the field, when different people use different names for the same bird. Perhaps followed by suspicious whisperings of “Did you hear that? That guy over there said, ‘Wilson’s Warbler.’” Maybe someone will even choose to “re-educate” others on the spot. Won’t that be fun? And we are doing all this for unity?

Speaking of Wilson’s Warbler, I encourage everyone to read the biography of Alexander Wilson (such as this link; no surprise that he didn’t get a bio at BN4B). The man was a hero and an inspiration. His humble origins in Scotland included little schooling -– he largely had to educate himself, as he was put to work as a weaver at age thirteen. He had a fondness for writing poetry, but later his writings included an anti-establishment satire that would land him in jail. At age 28 he came to the USA with nothing, found no work as a weaver, and literally walked from state to state, taking various teaching jobs. His love for nature inspired him to yet catalog and depict birds, gaining time to do so in earnest only once he was in his thirties. He died in poverty at age 47. And now everyone in the birding community is expected to accept the denigration-by-association of this great man, the father of American ornithology?

“But, he might have made some racist remarks in his diaries…” Please. If he did, it would be in keeping with the sad fact that the majority of humans of every color that have ever lived have held racist ideas. To be inspired by his accomplishments, and to honor him, is not to endorse whatever unsavory ideas he might have had.

Alexander Wilson

I’ll also predict that once these 80-odd species have their new monikers, the folks that started this are not going to hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner and close shop. That their bio pages go after the likes of Von der Decken and Klass indicates that the entire birding world stands in need of their correctives. Place names referencing people are also apparently “problematic.” They seem to hint that Hudsonian Godwit might be next, for example, and I can only imagine what they think of bird names involving Nashville, Louisiana, Carolina, and Virginia. Finally, I expect that they will come for the Latin eponyms. From the FAQ, emphasis mine: “BN4B is currently focused on English common bird names.” Yet the calls to upend all biological taxonomy over this hysteria are already out there (see, for example, this link), and will only grow more strident, now that there is blood in the water. I certainly hope I am wrong, but I don’t think I am.

There are critical conservation issues to be dealt with, and they probably won’t be solved without buy-in from people and entities that already view our concerns about biodiversity with a jaundiced eye. Groups like the AOS have a responsibility to make the case that serious people must do serious work to solve serious problems. But now, the birding community is not coming off as serious at all. When the likes of Jimmy Kimmel – not exactly an enemy of progressive causes – is pointing and laughing at you, you have an indication of just how insane this all looks to the rest of the world (Link – start at the 9:40 mark). Kimmel isn’t a one-off; there are plenty of others doing the same. I didn’t think it possible to further degrade the regard for scientific authority among the public, but in pursuing a nakedly political agenda, the AOS has done just that. Congratulations.

Albert Einstein once said “I have little patience with scientists who take a board of wood, look for the thinnest part, and drill a great number of holes where the drilling is easy.” If we want more birds, more birders and a greater diversity of birders, and we all agree that we do, then we need to take down real barriers.

Alexander Wilson, God bless him, sure as hell isn’t a barrier. I’d say he is quite the opposite. And I bet Maya Angelou would agree with me.

[1] Wagner’s Ring: Turning the Sky Round, M. Owen Lee. Limelight; Reprint edition (January 1, 1994)


One of the worst things that a regressive and illiberal movement can do is assume the mantle to speak with unchallenged authority on some broad social issue. If you are tired of the forces that focus on magnifying our differences, please check out the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism at

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly,” said Maya Angelou. “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For a fine essay on the importance of forgiveness in advocacy for those facing barriers, see

44 responses to “Some Thoughts on Bird Names and Barriers”

  1. An interesting read and I sadly shake my head at those who would like to bring about this change. Thankfully we don’t seem to have this problem in the UK, or if we do I am unaware of it as I try to keep ‘politics’ out of my love of nature. Maybe I’m of that ‘certain’ age and am not offended by the deeds of those way back in history who gave their moniker to species of flora and fauna. It’s how I learned to differentiate between species and I’m too old and set in my ways to change now.
    The world is not a perfect place and the past certainly not. My advice to those so fixated in wanting change on the grounds of past misdemeanors is chill out and get a life.

  2. Excellent essay. Totally agree!

  3. very poignant essay, thank you.

  4. This is a beautiful essay, which expresses my views much better than I have done. Congratulations and thank you!

  5. This is a beautiful essay, which expresses my views much better than I have done. Thank you!

  6. As an optimist with a glass-half-full view of humanity and the world around us, I needed to read that. Thank you.

      1. The latin birding community is now on the defensive position, and also creating memes laughing an questioning AOS. Hundreds of thousands of migrating Swainsons Hawks just crossed over our skies. Every latin country on their route names them differently, yet we share the English name and the latin name, Swainson! Meanwhile eBird and Merlin give us fake spanish names useless liguistic artifacts…
        Great essay, thank you

  7. Sometimes it takes someone with special insight to understand that there is no problem when the powers that be think there is! Bravo for providing an inspirational response!

  8. To be frank, this comes across as whitesplaining to me. To argue that the desire to change eponymous bird names comes out of some sort of “resentment” and “self-pity” misreads the motives behind the BN4B movement, which not about historic grievances but out of an honest understanding of how saturated our society (including ornithology and birding) is with systemic racism. Birders of color like J. Drew Lanham and Christian Cooper have a very different perspective on the matter.
    One can quibble about how AOS went about doing this, but to suggest that science is some sort of ivory-tower, detached pursuit of truth completely immune to politics and culture is naive. One hard look at the history of science in the modern era reveals just how saturated it has always been by contemporary circumstances. Eugenics and the atom bomb are just two of the more notorious examples.
    That the name change causes some annoyance and discomfort among some of us white ornithologists and birders strikes me as a small price to pay for an honest recognition that we can do better among non-white birders, and we shouldn’t be demanding that it be done on our terms.

    1. Thank you for sharing your view.

      The fact that you cannot get through the first sentence without using a term like “whitesplaining” speaks volumes. Some of us want a colorblind society, while others want to magnify (or if needed invent) differences at every opportunity. To see how inherently bigoted this postmodern nonsense has become, replace “white” with any other race in that epithet and imagine how it sounds and what kind of reaction it would (rightly) precipitate.

      You also refer to “us white ornithologists and birders.” You might note the comment in this thread from someone in la communidad latina who supports the majority opinion that all this word-policing has grown quite tiresome. No wonder, given how the same scolds have deigned to tell them to use monstrous words like “latinx.” As someone who has invested some fifteen years to become fluent in Spanish and has made over 25 trips to Latin America and spoken with all manner of people there, I can assure you that the majority of them that are aware of your “latinx” are not impressed with the insufferable presumption of liberal elites here to “fix” their glorious language. Most reasonable people here are tired of it as well.

      Finally, you might want to introduce yourself to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was someone that represents everything that “woke” (for lack of a better term) culture does not. You can start with this quote: “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.” There’s that b-word again.

      1. Well, I would submit that out of my entire comment your focus on my use of the word “white” is equally telling. As for colorblindness, that’s a luxury that only the privileged white majority can afford itself. No person of color can permit themselves to be colorblind. For instance: I have a very good birder friend who is black, and she will not go out birding with her white friends here in the Louisiana countryside because she is afraid of the harm that might befall them by being with her. Meanwhile we white folks can blithely go through our lives pretending our skin color doesn’t matter at all.
        What BN4B is asking for, it seems to me, is a modest acknowledgement (80 bird names!) of the systemic racism (which is different from individual prejudice) that saturates all of our society and culture, including ornithology and birding. They’re asking for a paradigm shift, which will indeed make a lot of people uncomfortable. But I personally believe that it’s the right thing to do. Martin Luther King Jr was also working towards a paradigm shift, and he made so many people uncomfortable it got him killed.
        If calling me woke or bigoted because of my opinion makes you feel better, that’s your privilege; it’s your blog. But the defensive and dismissive reactions to this change from white birders and ornithologists I have read across social media suggest to me that BN4B is on too something.

        Christine Kooi
        Baton Rouge, LA

      2. Thank you, Christine, for your reply.

        You may want to note I was referring to your bringing the nonsense word “whitesplaining” into the discussion. To make a cogent case, it might be best to avoid terms like this that are intended to be divisive, as well as making certain insinuations. As for “dismissive and defensive reactions … from white birders…” again I must wonder about the disregard for the opinions of many latinos that have no interest in taking their language marching orders from guilt-ridden elites in US universities. And I do not “feel better” to point out the inherent use of stereotyping that informs today’s regressive ideologies. In fact I’m saddened to mention it, saddened that otherwise lovely people, as I imagine you are, appear to have been affected by it. There are alternatives. A great place to start would be the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism ( It is a wonderful group.

        Otherwise, you raise good points that I agree with fully. In the end we share some broad goals. We differ in the strategies to reach them. Nobody wants birding to exclude anyone, and I recognize that some birders have faced real impediments in their attempts to engage in our shared hobby, simply because of how they look. Anyone who acts in such a way in the field that makes anyone unwelcome is anathema to us. Such barriers are real and unacceptable. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this.

        As for the utterly unrelated issue of changing bird names, it is worse than simply being naked virtue signaling that will achieve nothing. It dilutes the meaning of words such as “barrier,” “exclusionary,” “harmful,” and so on. A bird name is none of those things. It demeans the experiences of people that have suffered actual barriers, actual exclusion, and actual harm. Choosing to be bothered by the name Isaac Sprauge doesn’t make you a victim (well, it likely means you are a victim of the postmodern nonsense you’ve been taught).

        You and I will probably never agree on this perspective, which I submit lies at the heart of the disconnect. Good people can disagree about it. To the extent that our goals overlap, and they mostly do, I wish you the very best in accomplishing them. Thank you for posting your thoughts here and putting a name to them; I respect that very much. I hope you have a very birdy day, and I will close with another Martin Luther King quote:

        “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”

    2. I strongly suspect that was your take on this before you read it… meanwhile, many of us who are progressives are being called racist for not passing your purity test. Very sad.

  9. Very well put, thanks for writing this. I’ve struggled with the BN4Bs movement a bit and mostly because it quickly alienated those who are moderate on the issue. I’m not a fan of “us vs them” mentalities. Issues like these are complicated. Fortunately I’ve started to read more thought provoking, middle of the road pieces such as this, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to matter much. At the end of the day we are going to get some really cool / interesting names, but once the dust settles I don’t think the needle will have moved an inch with regards to accessibility/inclusion/and unity.

    1. Thank you. I agree that, with all the other baggage set aside, a descriptive name is in some sense “better.” I also could assent to taking out a few of the worst eponyms, as we did with McCown. Ok. Reasonable people make bargains and meet in the middle. But the other side wants no bargaining, they want total control. They are blind to the utter irony of the fact that in denigrating the likes of Alexander Wilson with that same broad brush – the only brush they care to use – they are performing the same kind of sweeping, over-generalizing bigotry that they are supposed to be against. Nothing could be more illiberal.

      1. Btw not sure why I came up as anonymous before, this is Ross. Hope you’re doing well.

      2. Hey Ross. Thanks I did not know it was you. Love the Australia photos and stories.

  10. Incredibly well said! Thank you for taking the time write this essay, and helping me to put words to my own feelings on the matter. It is difficult to describe why I believe this movement to be rotten at its core, and one easily comes off sounding as a bigot trying to do so. You put your finger on it, precisely. Hopefully the AOS listens to reason.

  11. This is the best set of comments I have seen on this topic. An additional point: McCown’s Longspur has already been renamed… Thick-Billed Longspur. Give me a break. When I see a mixed flock of McCown’s and Chestnut-Collared, am I going to say… “Oh, look, that one has a thicker bill”. NO! The thicker bill is NOT a field mark. If they are going to rename birds, do it usefully.

  12. Great essay — you make your points with uncommon elegance and insight. You’re quite right to anticipate that the scientific names referencing people will also have to change, since the true honor was never contained in the common name. To take one recent example, Bernard Master — a rich, white man — donated $75,000 to tropical conservation for the honor of having a recently-discovered songbird being forever referred to as Vireo masteri. The bird’s common name has always been the Chocó Vireo, not Master’s Vireo, but that’s irrelevant since the juice has always been in the Latin. Thick-billed Longspur remains Rhynchophanes mccownii, not R. crassirostris, but does anyone really think the AOS naming committee is going to allow the rebel John McCown to have the last laugh?

    No, for any of this to make any sense at all, the scientific names must — inevitably — also change. But they’re not proposing this, are they? No, they’re leading us down the path with baby steps. They’re *managing* us. They know that first changing the common names and then later changing the scientific names will entail two massive rounds of instability instead of just one — think of all those publications that will have to be redone twice to capture all the changes — but it’s a price they’re willing to have the rest of us pay to get their way. It’s really quite dishonest.

    I recognize that naming taxa after problematic people is a problem. I also believe that naming taxa after exemplary people sets a good example. Rather than throwing all the babies out with the bathwater, why not keep the ones you really don’t have any solid dirt on, and limit them to just one honorific? I’ll take your word that Alexander Wilson was a mensch (I’m also surprised at how much he reminds me of his eponymous warbler), but he doesn’t need a snipe, plover, phalarope, storm-petrel, bird-of-paradise, indigobird, and warbler under his brand. Why not choose one (gotta be the warbler) and distribute the other six taxa among honorable people (vetted and verified) who aren’t white men? With Cassin you can net eight honorifics! To my way of thinking, this is how you get around the problem of all the birds being named after dead white men — by redstributing their surplus to women and people of color, not by assuming all the dead white men were creepers (although, for sure, some of them were). People, this is the time to get creative!

    -Robb Hamilton

  13. Brilliant essay. Thank-you so much!

  14. Very well said. You hinted at the real motivation behind BN4B. I have doubts about whether some of the loudest and most persuasive proponents have any real interest in birds. Some are young beginning birders – not that there’s anything wrong with being a beginner, but who enters a hobby or hobbyist organization and immediately starts trying to erase its history and topple its foundations? Look at how the the “leftist Birding Memes” group on Facebook was launched over a political dispute in the Birding Memes Group, and immediately gained over a thousand members. Then, still with over a thousand members the group went inactive with less than one post a month, and it’s now closed. That’s what happens when activists mob an activity they aren’t really interested in. I’m sure those activist voices are part of this campaign as well.

    1. Thanks. I know nothing about any of the Facebook material, I don’t have an account.

  15. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But what if a name change is an improvement? Why not change?

    Entomologists adopted “spongy moth” recently and dropped the derisive “Gypsy moth” moniker. They did not take my “indiscriminate defoliator” suggestion but I’m adjusting.

    By coincidence, I syndicated an essay using the old name on the same day that the Ent Soc pulled that name. It was work to withdraw the essay from 15 papers to fix it but we did it. I respected the need for change and the cost was minor. All names are made up anyway….even Latin names.

    Names matter. Many of my people consider the “London” in “Londonderry” the longest sequence of silent letters in the language imposed upon us by 800 years of foreign rule. Do I feel like a victim? No, but the cultural damage is real, permanent, and I can do my small bit by calling that town “Derry”. …….and yes, a certain highway exit sign in New Hampshire containing both versions blew mind at first sight.

    I suggest a simple cost benefit analysis. Benefits are well beyond virtue signaling when some of the lost names celebrate slave holders. And should we really care if Jimmy Kimmel makes a punchline out of it if it is the right thing to do?

    Thanks for a thought provoking essay. Civil discourse also matters.

    Cheers, Declan McCabe

    1. Thanks Declan, for writing and posting your comments.

      While I don’t care about Jimmy Kimmel’s opinion on anything, the larger point is: this only makes the people and institutions concerned with birds and biodiversity to come off to rest of the world as deeply unserious. Rightly or wrongly, that is the perception. We already face an uphill battle in trying to convince others who will never personally care about birds that conservation is yet critical for them to support. But we seem preoccupied with window dressing and making an issue out of a non-issue. There are so many other examples out there beyond Kimmel, many of them far less kind than he was.

      You stress being even-handed in all this, and we agree. Reasonable people make compromises. I can see making a few examples of name changes in the case of most egregious characters. But that is unacceptable to one side here. All or nothing for them. Which leads to this incredible babies-thrown-out-with-the-bathwater purge we are witnessing. And the stupidity of doing that, the lesson that it is acceptable to employ such a juvenile, unconsidered calculus to anything, far outweighs any good or good intentions.

      Have a birdy day.

  16. Nice essay, but I largely disagree. Don’t you think Science and Ornithology can easily survive one joke on national tv? The core of the issue for me is that I care more for the feelings of the descendants of the oppressed than the honorifics of their oppressors. And if a bunch of innocent dead people’s honorifics are sacrificed for expediency, I can happily live with that. The honorees good, bad, and likely totally indifferent will all still remain quite dead. I do agree that judging people from one time with the ethics of another can be highly problematic and I think this decision tries very hard to sidestep around what would be an even more hugely time wasting morass/minefield if they decided to pick and choose individually. I strongly prefer to have these dedicated Ornithologists rip off the bandaid fast so they can be again be fully focused on the science of avian taxonomy, rather than the distraction of historic ethics.

    1. Thanks, Steven.

      Yeah, we are going to disagree on much of what you wrote. It wasn’t just one joke on TV. It has been commented on widely across the spectrum, and we look deeply unserious, and rightly so. And I don’t accept that the names are barriers. It dilutes the meaning of the word and IMO demeans the experiences of people that have faced real barriers due to their race, etc. Choosing to “offended” by Swainson’s Hawk is just that, a choice, and a silly one at that. My $0.02, See my part II essay for my olive branch. Thanks for following the blog.

      Best, Michael

  17. Scientific names for all organisms are under the purview of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The AOS does not have any say in what scientific names are valid. A scientific name is chosen by the person originally describing the species. As long as it isn’t the same as an existing one, that name stands. There are instances of a name being misspelled in the original paper (originally Motacilla now Setophaga pensylvanica for example), which is how it remains. The continuity of names is vital for scientific research. It allows everyone to know exactly which species is being discussed, no matter which language, and over centuries. Genus names may change as species relationships are modified, but species are rarely discarded. If two species are lumped, the discarded name is still available for use if new techniques such as DNA analysis later prove that they should be split again. The discarded name is not available for reuse for another species in the same genus.

    1. Thank you for this. Hopefully the ICZN will remain consistent and not make a political decision as the AOS has. Something that is not being communicated is that the NACC within the AOS voted unanimously to follow a course similar to what I suggested at the end of my “part II” post. A very reasonable course. So it wasn’t the biologists who made the decision to throw out great ornithologists with the bathwater. It was something else entirely.

  18. Ah, thank you — now I get it. So this really is all just virtue-signaling and window-dressing, at least for the foreseeable future.

    -Robb Hamilton

  19. Great Essay. Couldn’t agree more, but know I couldn’t say it as eloquently, and persuasively as you. Don’t forget good ol George Steller!! Now, there was a birder!!

  20. So well thought out, and poignant essay, that was clearly written with using ones brain vs emotions. Very much appreciate your essay and will share the link with other birders whom I know are 1000% against this nonsense of name changing. But such a pity that there are, in my opinion, so much low life in this world doing nothing but evil who wish to destroy the joy of birding using the brains the size of a gnat.

    And think of the hundreds of thousands who will spend countless hours
    now having to pour through all their field notebooks, to change all those 80 species (and that number no doubt will grow once these low life seeking Power, see they can get away with this) thru out all those pages, then computer files with those names needing changed, and for myself, my life long work on my website of over 2,000 species images / names which will need editing. Then all the scientific organizations such as Natural History Museums with bird skins, and the like.

    All this to satisfy the emotional individuals that can’t use their brains, that is if even they have one! Doubtful.

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